How does the lung protect itself against influenza?

Respiratory diseases, including influenza and Covid-19 coronavirus, kill large numbers of humans, and animal viruses that can jump to humans (zoonoses) are a serious threat to human health. Although current vaccines to many of these viruses are available, they are often strain specific and immunity wanes rapidly. Therefore, vaccines that provide broad, long-lasting protection and decrease the need for annual immunisation are desperately needed.

Start date

1 April 2022


3.5 years

Application deadline

Funding source

The Pirbright Institute

Funding information

This is a 3.5 year fully funded studentship open to UK nationals. Funding includes a minimum annual stipend of £15,609 plus a cost of living top-up allowance of £2,200 per annum. Pirbright Institute subsidised student housing will be offered. Home rated university tuition fees will be paid. EU and international applicants are welcome to apply and all students are eligible for the full award (stipend and home rated university tuition fees). 

EU and International students will be liable for tuition fees at the international rate and must be able to fund the difference between “Home” and “Overseas” tuition fees themselves. For Home student eligibility guidelines, please refer to the UKRI Full Eligibility Criteria (Annex One).


We have established powerful animal models to study immunity to influenza and coronaviruses. Contrary to the mouse model, pigs are a natural host for the same subtypes of influenza virus as humans, and pig influenza viruses cause epidemics in humans. Humans and pigs are very similar in terms of tissue/organ anatomy, physiology, and importantly their immune responses to influenza viruses. Pigs act as a vital stepping-stone in the translation of experimental results into human clinical applications.

It has become clear that local immune responses mediated by lymphocytes that remain in the lungs, called lung tissue-resident memory T and B cells (TRM and BRM), are critical for protective immunity to influenza and other respiratory pathogens. We know that TRM and BRM are most effectively induced by delivery of vaccines to the lungs or by natural infection, but we do not know how to optimise this stimulation of generation, or how to ensure that they are maintained over long periods of time. In this project we shall investigate the generation and maintenance of TRM and BRM induced either by pandemic H1N1pdm09 influenza infection or by respiratory immunisation with adenoviral vectored vaccines expressing influenza internal (nucleoprotein) and external (hemagglutinin) proteins. 

This novel project will provide the student with the unique opportunity to investigate the mechanisms of induction of TRM and BRM in a large, natural-host animal model and to establish their role in immunity to influenza. The proposed studies will determine whether alterations in the mode of priming affect the nature of the TRM and BRM response. This will be a crucial step in the more rational development of novel vaccine strategies for influenza and other respiratory diseases including coronaviruses. For full project details please visit The Pirbright Institute.

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The Pirbright Institute

The student will be based primarily at The Pirbright Institute and registered with the University of Surrey. The student will visit the university to meet with their supervisors and undertake training or complete specific project tasks as required. A full range of research and transferrable skills training will be made available to the student at both The Pirbright Institute and the University of Surrey.

Eligibility criteria

This studentship is open to science graduates with, or who anticipate obtaining, at least a 2:1 or equivalent, in a relevant biological subject in their undergraduate degree, or a Masters degree, subject to university regulations. Other first degrees, e.g. veterinary science, will be considered. You should be looking for a challenging, interdisciplinary research training environment and have an active interest in the control of infectious diseases.

This studentship has funding for UK students. EU and international students are welcome to apply, however EU and International students will be liable for tuition fees at the international rate and must be able to fund the difference between “Home” and “Overseas” tuition fees themselves.

Students without English as a first language must provide evidence that they meet the English language requirement, e.g. with an IELTS score of 7.0, with no lower than 7.0 in listening/reading and no lower than 6.5 in speaking/writing.

How to apply

Applications for this studentship must be made to The Pirbright Institute, not to the University of Surrey.

To apply you must submit The Pirbright Institute Application Form and a CV. Two references must be sent directly by your referees.

The application form and further details can be found on The Pirbright Institute website.

Studentship FAQs

Read our studentship FAQs to find out more about applying and funding.

Application deadline

Contact details

Yvonne Walsh

Tel: 01483 868230


The Pirbright Institute is a world leading centre of excellence in research and surveillance of virus diseases of farm animals and viruses that spread from animals to humans. We receive strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), and work to enhance capability to contain, control and eliminate these economically and medically important diseases through highly innovative fundamental and applied bioscience. The Institute employs around 350 staff, research students and visiting scientists, and is based in Pirbright, Surrey, where investment by BBSRC has resulted in a redevelopment of the site and the construction of a high level containment facility – the BBSRC National Virology Centre: The Plowright Building and a SAPO level two facility, The Jenner Building.

Section of Immunology.


1. Martini V et al. Simultaneous Aerosol and Intramuscular Immunization with Influenza Vaccine Induces Powerful Protective Local T Cell and Systemic Antibody Immune Responses in Pigs (2021). J Immunol. 206:652-663; doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.2001086

2. Holzer B et al. Protective porcine influenza virus-specific monoclonal antibodies recognize similar haemaggulutinin epitopes as humans (2021). PloS Pathogens 17(3):e1009330.  doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1009330

3. Vatzia et al. Respiratory and intramuscular immunization with ChAdOx2 NPM1-NA induces distinct immune responses in H1N1pdm09 pre-exposed pigs (2021). Frontiers in Immunology,

4. Martini V et al. Distribution of droplets and immune responses after aerosol and intra-nasal delivery of influenza virus to the respiratory tract of pigs (2020). Frontiers in Immunology 11:594470; doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2020.594470

5. McNee A et al. Establishment of a pig influenza challenge model for evaluation of monoclonal antibody delivery platforms (2020). J Immunol. 205(3):648-660; doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.2000429


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